Wakefield and Tiverton & Honiton by-elections: Nick de Bois warns after Conservative defeats that Government must cut taxes to keep seats like Hertford and Stortford safe
In the wake of the Government's defeat in two by-elections, political pundit Nick de Bois has some words of comfort and caution for Conservative MPs like Julie Marson.
The broadcaster, writer and former Tory MP, who lives in Bishop's Stortford, was reflecting on Labour's victory in Wakefield and the Liberal Democrats' historic rout in Tiverton and Honiton – the biggest by-election win in British history.
He said: "Lots of Conservative MPs will be worried about their own seats, but they should take some comfort from the fact that in the 2010-15 Parliament there were 10 by-elections when Labour's share of the vote rose by more than it did in Wakefield, yet they still lost in 2015.
"From Labour's perspective, the garden is not as rosy as they might like it to be the morning after this by-election in Wakefield.
"However, the Lib Dem surge will be more troubling for Conservative MPs, who face the prospect of their vote being split between the right and centre-left, namely Conservatives who don't see this Government as Conservative enough and those that feel the Government is not on their side during this cost of living crisis. Safe seats are far less safe than they were."
In Wakefield, Labour's Simon Lightwood defeated Tory Nadeem Ahmed by 4,925 votes to overturn a majority of 3,358 – a 12.7% swing and the party's first by-election gain since Corby in 2012. The turnout was 39.09%. Prior to the Conservatives' General Election victory there in December 2019, the West Yorkshire seat had been held by Labour since the early 1930s.
In Tiverton and Honiton, Liberal Democrat Richard Foord won by more than 6,000 votes after the Devon constituency saw a swing of almost 30%, overturning a Conservative majority of more than 24,000. The turnout was 52.3%. The seat had been won by the Tories since it was created in 1997.
The by-elections were triggered by the resignations of ex-Conservative MPs Imran Ahmad Khan, who was jailed in May for sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy in 2008, and Neil Parish, who admitted watching pornography in the House of Commons.
In both by-elections, there was evidence of tactical voting, but Mr de Bois said that would be hard to replicate across the country.
He said: "The electorate voted for 'anyone but the Conservatives' in Tiverton and that will be difficult to repeat on a national basis in a General Election, so all is not lost for the Government by any means."
The talkRADIO host is well versed in the vagaries of voters. In 2010 he was elected Conservative MP for Enfield North, unseating Labour's Joan Ryan having lost to her in the 2005 and 2001 General Elections. She regained the seat in 2015 and beat him again in 2017.
He returned to Westminster in 2018 as chief of staff and special advisor to the then Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union Dominic Raab, who is now Deputy Prime Minister, Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor.
In 2019, Mr de Bois was short-listed to be the Conservative candidate for the Hertford and Stortford seat in the General Election but was beaten to the nomination by Julie Marson.
His advice to her and other Tory MPs was clear – they must concentrate on the cost-of-living crisis or face further election humiliation.
"I don't see a change of leadership as a result of this election, but if the Government are, as they say they are this morning, really listening to what voters have said, then they need to introduce tax-cutting measures to ease the cost of living. If it costs well over £100 to fill your car up, why wouldn't you want to vote against the Government in a by-election?"
In December 2019, Julie Marson retained Hertford and Stortford for the Conservatives with 33,712 votes – a 56.1% share of the vote, down 4.2 percentage points on her predecessor Mark Prisk's 60.3% in 2017. Labour was second with 14,092 (23.4%, up from 18.3%) and the Lib Dems third with 8,596 (14.3%, up from 8.1%). Mrs Marson's majority of 19,620 was achieved on a turnout of 73.5% of an electorate of 81,765.
According to UK Parliament data, in 2019 Hertford and Stortford was the 221st safest seat by majority, with 32.6% against an average of 25.4%. In terms of share of the vote, Mrs Marson's 56.1% – slightly above the average of 54.7% – put her 266th out of the 650 MPs. She achieved that result with the 88th highest turnout in the country – 73.5% against an average of 67.3%.
The Indie has invited Mrs Marson to comment on the by-election results but she has not responded.
*Mr de Bois, chairman of the VisitEngland advisory board, has penned two books drawing on his inside track at Westminster: Fatal Ambition, a fictional thriller, is set in the corridors of power after the departure of Boris Johnson while Confessions of a Recovering MP is a factual account of his time in Parliament.